Sixth Sunday of the Year
It can seem as if people are speaking different languages when arguing about what is entailed in being a follower of Jesus. Fr Brian Stoney often asked: do you want to be good or be a follower of Jesus. For many, life needs to be rule based, conforming and top down that preserves a status quo. Others take a Jesus-centred, heart-centred approach of mercy and compassion in the midst of mistakes and growth.
Pope Francis’ prioritising mercy, compassion, encouragement to develop a culture of encounter that recognises God’s love and mercy in our relationships has led to much negativity. Our hearts are challenged when dealing with whatever destroys relationships. In 2013, Pope Francis said: ‘There are ecclesiastical rules and precepts that were once effective, but now have lost value or meaning. The view of the church’s teaching as a monolith to defend without nuance or different understandings is wrong.’ Jesus shows us what his teaching looks like when enfleshed. His followers are to continue putting flesh on it in their lives, so others learn its content by examining our lives. Jesus reminds the people that his teachings are not new. As Jesus says, he did not “come to abolish the law or the prophets . . . but to fulfill them.” Jesus’ preaching was an invitation to profound freedom; to choose life and respond accordingly. St Paul says we are called to live, not according to the wisdom of this age, but according to God’s wisdom – that has been revealed to us in the life of Jesus “through the Spirit.” It is a call to a different way of living, in our relations to each other and then to the world that where there is anger and alienation, we seek reconciliation.
A spirituality that is faithful and true does not tick off an obedience box but does the work of the heart and discern how this is embodied in what we do and connect with others. The heart of our call is to embrace and reflect God’s love, presence and goodness. Pope Francis reminds us that God prefers people who are flawed but merciful to who are meticulously loyal and self-righteous people. Our true mission, for Francis is ‘healing the wounds of the heart, opening doors, forgiving all, liberating, and saying that God is good, forgives all……is gentle and always waits for us’.
The challenge is to live from the heart that involves serving, seeking justice, welcoming the stranger, showing compassion, protecting the vulnerable and protecting God’s creation that rather than living minimalist standards of the law. Having the courage to live from the heart, we will find a richness and fullness, a deeper connectedness, and a more gracious way of relating and living together. It is to make kindness a lifestyle. Few of us actually kill another, but we are all capable of destroying relationships by treating others worthless; when we ignore, bully, withdraw, gossip, fail to welcome people. The deeper call is not to avoid some things but to commit to upholding justice, dignity, truthfulness and peace at home, work, school, right down to how we drive our cars. Where distance, boundaries, division, or suspicion exist, we are called to bring trust and truthfulness, supplant guilt with joy, limitations with openness, and fear with affirmation and courage.
Jesus saw his vocation to reveal the deep meaning of everything that had preceded him, particularly of God's loving interaction with humanity. He preached radical nonviolence where people seek the defeat of their enemies; he taught that reconciliations was worth more than any material offering or sacrifice; he preached respect and human dignity where people see others as object of self-gratification (adultery); and treated those in need of healing from illness and disability as of great value. Anger, resentment, objectifying others for pleasure or gain, and other forms of breaking relationships are diverse manifestation of disrespect.
Pope Francis has said: ‘It hurts to see how in some Christian communities, and even among consecrated persons, we consent to various forms of hatred, slander, defamation, revenge, jealousy, desire to impose our own ideas at any cost, and persecution that seems like a relentless witch hunt. Who are we going to evangelise with that behaviour?’ He wants a Church where ‘everyone can admire how you take care each other, how you give each other mutual encouragement, and how you accompany one another.’ Rules will make you righteous, but relationships will make you real. The words of Pope Francis at Lampedusa in 2013 again spring to mind: ‘The ‘other’ is no longer a brother or sister to be loved, but simply someone who disturbs my life and my comfort. In this globalised world, we have fallen into globalised indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business.’
Legalistic approaches will not assist in responding to the millions of people seeking asylum; or those captive to modern slavery and trafficking; or people living with physical, intellectual and psychological disabilities; or change our attitudes to indigenous people; or people who are homeless or challenged in other ways. When we live from the heart, we can look them in the eye; we will not dodge them or pretend we did not see them. When we live from the heart, we allow ourselves to meet the other who is different and not allow our prejudices that are constantly being stimulated to determine our responses. We are called to listen to our hearts and find something the heart of God reflected there. The challenge is to allow our hearts to keep time with God’s beating heart.
Living from the heart requires that our attitudes and conventions be continually challenged. We come to the liturgy, not as finished products, but to place ourselves in the hands of the One in whose image we are formed.
In the gospel, Jesus calls us to discern the deeper meaning of the commandments ourselves. Those in authority are not the final arbiters. Nor are they always correct in their interpretation: ‘unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.’ [Mt 5:20] Paul too, reminds the people of Corinth that there is continual need to seek wisdom and listen for the Spirit in our lives. God is still at work because God cares about life – our lives and the life of the world.